Cooking With Wine

Wine is often described as a living beverage. That’s because flavors and aromas continue to develop in the bottle even after the vintner has stuffed a cork in it.

Inside the bottle, the tannins, acids and a vast number of other compounds continue to work; mingling together, mellowing, transforming themselves. Wine’s complexity of flavors and aromas is one reason it works so well as an ingredient for cooking.

Let’s take a look at how the various parts of wine affect flavor.

The Flavor Factors


The alcohol in wine is a key player in developing flavor in cooked dishes. Alcohol itself doesn’t add flavor so much as it helps release flavor molecules in foods and assists in dissolving fats, allowing ingredients to reveal their own unique flavors in ways that other liquids (like water or broth) or fats (like butter and olive oil) cannot.

When adding wine to a sauce, make sure you allow most of the alcohol to cook off; otherwise, the sauce may exhibit a harsh, slightly boozy taste. How do you know when enough is enough? After adding the wine, cook the sauce until it reduces by about half. For best results, do not cover the pan when you’re cooking off the alcohol. As the alcohol burns away, the flavor of the sauce will concentrate, becoming more delicious.


Tannins come from the grape’s skins, stems and seeds. Thick-skinned grapes, like Cabernet Sauvignon, produce more tannic wines than thinner-skinned varietals like Pinot Noir. And red wines have more tannin than whites. This is because the juice of red grapes spends more time swimming around with its skins than white grapes whose juice is separated from the skins soon after pressing. The juice of white grapes just doesn’t hang out long enough with its skins to pick up tannins.

Tannins affect the texture of a wine. We often experience them in the mouth as a drying sensation, rather than as a specific taste. In a young red wine with lots of tannin, they can come across as astringent and pucker-inducing, but the tannins will mellow with age, and are, in fact, one of the compounds that allows red wines to age gracefully.

How do tannins affect our eating experience? Well, let’s take Cabernet Sauvignon. Beef dishes are a classic pairing partner for Cabernet Sauvignon. In large part, it’s because Cabernet Sauvignon is a highly tannic wine, and the tannins in the wine get along so well with the fats and proteins in the meat. The tannins become attracted to the proteins in the meat rather than the proteins in your saliva, which makes the wine seem less astringent, a softer experience in your mouth.

When you make a pan sauce with Cabernet Sauvignon, the tannins become concentrated as the sauce reduces. If the sauce does not also contain enough protein and fat to handle those tannins, the end result could be a sauce that is a bit astringent for your liking. A vegetarian sauce, then, will probably work better with a less tannic red wine, like Pinot Noir, or a white wine.


Have you ever paired a tomato sauce with a red wine like Merlot? The acid in the tomatoes can burn right through the wine, make it seem flat, and throw the balance all out of whack. That’s because Merlot, which is typically on the low end in acid, just can’t compete with the acid in the tomatoes. This is why Chianti Classico is such a popular choice for tomato-based pasta dishes: the sangiovese grape (the main grape in Chianti) has enough acid to stand up to the acid in the tomato sauce.

Of course, all wines have acid. So when cooking with wine, use nonreactive pans and skillets (like those made from stainless steel or enameled cast iron) to avoid discoloration when the acid hits the pan.

Flavors and Aromas

When you’re making a dish that has one or two dominant flavors, it’s worth thinking about wines that share those basic taste characteristics. Pinot Noir, for example, particularly Pinot Noir from Burgundy, is known for having flavors and aromas of mushrooms; it might pair up nicely with a dish that features lots of fresh, sauteed mushrooms. A bright dish with a healthy splash of citrus might respond well to a wine with a nice, bright citrus flavor–like Sauvignon Blanc. A cream sauce with shrimp will likely match up well with a creamy, buttery Chardonnay.

credit: – Carl Hanson

A bottle of wine begs to be shared; I have never met a miserly wine lover. Clifton Paul Fadiman
Rosemary-Scented Pork Loin and Port Wine Pan SauceRosemary-Scented Pork Loin and Port Wine Pan Sauce

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Created by Rebekah Kreativ